I eagerly tore apart the envelope from the Records Office as I knew the contents should be the key to opening up my search for my wife Lorna’s family line. Inside was the birth certificate of Alice Hatton, the daughter born to George Hatton and his wife in 1916. This is Lorna’s Grandmother. The name on the certificate that would actually cause me more extensive research than I could possibly imagine was of the mother of Alice – Lily Stanford. Up to this point I had been unable to find the name of George’s wife, no wedding certificate of marriage appeared to exist but it had been clear that all of his children were probably with this same woman. Within minutes I was online and searching for Lily. It would be a very long search.
The only record I had up to then was the 1911 census and that named Lily Hatton as George’s wife and she was said to have been born in Preston, Lancashire. Searching now with the maiden surname it was clear that there was not a Lily or Lillian Stanford ever born in Preston. In the entire country there was only one Lily Stanford, a girl born in Barrow in Furness, Cumbria in 1888. I had nothing to link George with her but she was the only possibility – could I prove it to be correct?
I had already encountered problems with the line of George Hatton and this is a cautionary tale of not taking family information at face value but checking it out properly before embarking on extensive research. Initially I did not have the first name of George Hatton but family members recalled an Evelyn Hatton who was a daughter of George and therefore a sister of Alice, Lorna’s Grandmother. When you are starting out on your research you need to take a step back and not be so keen and eager that you act on the first piece of information you find or are given. Evelyn Hatton I easily found as a child in the 1901 census and therefore my assumption was that this was the line and armed with the names of the parents I was off and running in search of the family line. In my eagerness I had not realized as I really should have done that this Evelyn Hatton was at least 10 or more years too old to have been Lorna’s Auntie Evelyn. I spent several weeks compiling the family tree from this 1901 census starting point and did it very successfully going back for around 100 years. The only snag was that it was the wrong Evelyn and therefore entirely the incorrect family line. I made an excellent job of tracing it all accurately on someone else’s behalf but it was all complete nonsense as far as Lorna’s line was concerned. Family genealogy can be very frustrating. By all means use family information but check it thoroughly before accepting it as fact.
The frustration continued as I did eventually find what had to be the correct line with George Hatton as although I could take his line back I could not take it anywhere on his wife Lily’s side. She was a person that in the records did not exist. Within a few weeks I had obtained the 1914-18 war records of George. They also contained reference to his service in the Boer War in South Africa. In the 1901 census George is on home leave, listing himself as a single man and a member of the West Yorkshire regiment, living with his father. These war records would muddy the waters even further regarding George and Lily. In the records as a soldier he lists as he is obliged to do his marriage and children. He states, and in the event after more research this is correct, that he marries in Preston in 1897 and all the exact dates and witnesses to the event are given. His wife he claims is Mary Hannah Stanford, not Lily. As Lily would have been nine years old at the time of this marriage, George was clearly attempting to deceive. It was now time to trace this part of George’s life. By searching the marriage records I found that George Hatton had married Mary Hannah Grime (a distant cousin) at that Preston church in 1897. I sent for the marriage certificate and if you are doing similar, quite involved research then these certificates are invaluable. They are also much cheaper and readily available now as you can have them available to download in a matter of days rather than obtaining a paper copy.
Going back to the war records it is obvious that George is trying to cover his tracks. As his next of kin he states this to be Lily Hatton but there is an attempt to blur that first name, perhaps his story to the officer is that Lily is a pet name of his for Mary Hannah – you can only speculate. The names of the children are correct but none are born prior to 1906 meaning that George had gone (on paper) nine years into the marriage before staring a family. As George and Lily had six children in a relatively short space of time this was unlikely. The marriage to Mary Hannah Grime was George’s only marriage, it was short and tragic as Mary Hannah did have a child while George was in South Africa but it was not his and the child died in infancy. This information came from the online parish records at https://www.lan-opc.org.uk/ and these were invaluable in much of my family research. Similar records are available in most counties and many of these records are now available on Ancestry of Find My Past etc.. Also most counties have a family history society and these can be extremely helpful as I found particularly with the one in Cornwall based in Truro.